28 April 2017

Think Tank: China and the South China Sea - ‘you shall not pass’

William Choong

Recently, a senior Vietnamese official asked Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Phnom Penh if negotiations with ASEAN on a South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) would be completed by the end of the year. Mr Wang and his officials laughed it off, a Southeast Asian diplomat told me. A Vietnamese observer said he felt sorry for ASEAN. ‘They are just using the code of conduct to buy time.’

Chinese cynicism about the COC belies apparent progress. In August 2016—a month after the historic Hague ruling on Manila’s case against Beijing—ASEAN and China agreed on a hotline for maritime emergencies and a joint declaration applying the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea to the South China Sea. Last month, Mr Wang said a draft COC had been completed. China will host a meeting with ASEAN in May to come up with a preliminary agreement on a COC framework.

It’s important to note that China’s apparent willingness to accelerate talks on the code comes after 15 years trying to turn the 2002 Declaration of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) into a COC. But even if China and ASEAN agree on a COC, questions will remain over its effectiveness.

AUS: Regional cooperation on display as Five Powers Exercise gets underway

Exercise Bersama Shield 2017 commenced today in Malaysia and Singapore with Australian Defence Force personnel supporting South East Asia’s longest enduring multilateral defence relationship, the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA).

The long-running Bersama exercise series aims to enhance the interoperability between the founding members of the FPDA - Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Acting Chief of Joint Operations, Major General Stuart Smith said working alongside FPDA partners reinforces ties with regional partners in South East Asia and provides an invaluable opportunity for the Australian Defence Force to exercise in the region.

“Exercise Bersama Shield 17 is a visible example of the types of Defence relationships Australia maintains throughout the region,” Major General Smith said.

“This exercise is the centrepiece of a series of Five Power Defence Arrangements activities this year which aim to increase cooperation and interoperability between its members and makes a practical contribution to regional security resilience.”

Industry: Austal Cuts Steel On First Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement & Australia's Continuous Naval Shipbuilding Program

Austal (ASX:ASB) today welcomed the Minister for Defence Industries, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, to cut the first steel plate for the first of nineteen Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement (PPB-R) vessels for the Commonwealth of Australia.

Austal CEO Mr David Singleton said the plate-cutting was not only the start of construction for the A$306 million Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement project, but also the Australian Government’s A$89 billion Continuous Naval Shipbuilding Program.

“Austal is incredibly proud to be delivering the Commonwealth’s Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Project.  Austal is Australia’s only design, build and sustainment shipbuilding company.”

News Report: US Pacific Commander - Pyongyang’s Actions Could Justify Invasion of North Korea

Admiral Harry Harris Jr (Image: Wiki Commons)
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on Thursday, US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris Jr. refused to take an American invasion of North Korea off the table, as Pyongyang has already “provided provocation” to justify such an invasion, the District Sentinel reported.

In an exchange charitably describable as awkward, Harris was asked by South Carolina Republican and SASC member Lindsey Graham, "Is it fair to say, we do not have any intention of invading North Korea at all? Nobody has told you get ready to invade North Korea."

"That is not fair to say, sir," Harris answered, probably not the reply Graham was hoping for. "I believe the president has said that all options are on the table."

"Yeah, but I mean we're not just going to go in and take North Korea down for the heck of it," Graham said.

Harris: "I don't want to get into what we could or couldn't do."

News Report: Mission Incomplete - US Army to Send 1,500 Soldiers to Afghanistan in Summer

The United States is bracing to send 1,500 troops led by a "well-trained, well-equipped" commander to Afghanistan as a part of the mission to train Afghan soldiers.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The US Army announced in a statement on Thursday it will send about 1,500 soldiers to Afghanistan during the summer months in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

"The Department of the Army announced today the summer 2017 deployment of approximately 1,500 soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Afghanistan, in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel," the statement said.

The division’s commander Col. Toby Magsig stated the 1st Brigade Combat Team is "well-trained, well-equipped and ready to assist our Afghan partners as part of the Resolute Support mission."

News Report: Rolls-Royce Opens Service Center for Defense Forces in India

Rolls-Royce has opened a new defense service delivery center in Bengaluru. The first-of-its-kind center, outside the US and the UK, will provide localized engineering support and solutions for the Indian defense forces and public sector enterprise Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

New Delhi (Sputnik) – The center was officially inaugurated by Dominic McAllister, British Deputy High Commissioner, Bengaluru, with the senior leadership of Rolls-Royce from the region and the wider Asia-Pacific region present.

“We put our customers at the heart of our business, and the opening of our first Service Delivery Centre in India demonstrates our commitment to be closer to our customers to ensure they get the best possible aftermarket support and outstanding customer service which they have come to expect from us,” Lee Doherty, Senior Vice-President- Defence, Asia-Pacific at Rolls-Royce, said in a statement.

Rolls-Royce is looking to improve capability and provide faster front-line support for over 750 engines in a range of aircraft used by the defense as well as commercial aircraft such as the C-130J, Hawk advanced jet, Embraer and Jaguar, among others.

News Report: Afghan Envoy Advocates Trilateral Security Dialogue With India, US

During a conference hosted by Brookings India, Dr. Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Afghanistan Ambassador to India, has said that a trilateral strategic dialogue between India, Afghanistan and the United States will soon be revived to take on regional challenges, especially terrorism.

New Delhi (Sputnik) — Experts in India, however, said New Delhi shouldn't ignore the new realities and the great game going on in Afghanistan where other significant players have emerged, including Russia.

The Ambassador said the idea of trilateral strategic dialogue has been long discussed but never operationalized.

"Reactivation of that strategic dialogue, especially in the context of the war on terrorism, is highly desired. The three of us are affected a lot by the phenomenon of terrorism and can decide on a strategy while taking others in the region along with a more effective strategy," Dr. Abdali said at the event in New Delhi.

News Report: Moscow Concerned by 'US Naval Strike Force, N Korea's Bellicose Rhetoric'

The North Korea crisis is fraught with an armed confrontation, the Russian Foreign ministry warned.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Moscow is concerned about the deployment of a US naval strike force in Northeast Asia amid growing tensions over North Korea's missile tests in the area, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

"Of particular concern is the concentration of a US Navy strike group in the Northeast Asia region and Pyongyang's bellicose rhetoric…It is important to prevent the development of events under the crisis scenario, which is fraught with a slide to an open armed confrontation," spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a news briefing in Moscow.

The situation on the Korean peninsula has deteriorated after Pyongyang carried out a number of missile launches and nuclear tests in violation of UN Security Council in the past year.

News Report: Four Thai Servicemen Killed in Militant Attack in Southern Thailand

Four servicemen of Thailand’s Special Forces were killed Thursday in the southern part of the country when militants attacked their car, local media reported.

BANGKOK (Sputnik) – The soldiers' car was patrolling a road in the Narathiwat province when it was blown up with an improvised explosive device planted under the road, the local Channel Three reported, adding that militants then opened fire on the car, killing all four servicemen inside with their bullets.

Thailand's southern-most Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani provinces on the border with Malaysia are majority-Malay and predominantly Muslim, while the rest of the state’s provinces are mostly populated by Buddhists.

Violence in the region escalated in 2000 and a state of emergency was declared in 2004. Amid the turmoil, several groups of Muslim militants have demanded autonomy for the region or complete secession from Thailand. Some 6,500 people have been killed during the ongoing conflict, with the the majority of them being civilians.

This story first appeared on Sputnik & is reposted here with permission.

News Report: Seoul Ready for Dialogue if Pyongyang Chooses 'Path Toward Denuclearization'

South Korea is ready for a dialogue with North Korea if the latter is sincere about its willingness to discard its nuclear program, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said Thursday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — He commented on the Wednesday joint statement issued by key members of US President Donald Trump administration, which pointed out Trump's desire to denuclearize North Korea by means of enhanced economic sanctions and diplomatic measures.

"The stance of South Korea and the US toward dialogue is consistent. That is the door for dialogue is open if the North comes to take the path toward denuclearization with sincerity. Therefore we urge the North to learn quickly that the only choice it has is to denuclearize and come to the path of genuine transformation," Cho told a press briefing.

Tensions surrounding North Korea's activities with both nuclear and ballistic missiles have escalated in recent months after Pyongyang conducted a number of nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

The most recent missile launch by Pyongyang reportedly took place early on April 16 but, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, it ultimately failed.

In response to the growing tensions in the region, the United States sent a naval group led by US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula. On April 14, US media reported that Trump might order a strike against North Korea if Pyongyang decided to carry out another nuclear weapons test.

This story first appeared on Sputnik & is reposted here with permission.